Albert’s letters this week are a little short on substance, yet they contain some amusing and puzzling details. I was amused by the egg and puzzled by Portsmouth’s contribution. I shall say no more about either, Dear Reader, and let you discover for yourself.
My photographs to accompany this post are from the very welcome trip I took to see my dear friend Clare, and her little girl. It was the first time I had been out of the city this year. Clare said to me, ‘let’s go and see Albert’s windmill‘ and so we met and climbed Butser Hill but the windmill couldn’t be seen from that vantage point. We clambered to the top of the hill and the three of us had a picnic under a bare-branched tree, looking out across the water of the Solent to The Island. We made a game with sticks and chalk stones and talked about our plans for when the world opens up again.
I left them later to walk on my own through the beech woods, seeking a view of the windmill. And as I walked deeper into the wood and the roar of traffic from the A3 subsided, I sighed and settled into a slower pace. Soft earth underfoot, not hard tarmac. Sounds only of birdsong and the gentle breezes of fresh air. I saw wild violets. I saw yellow gorse and yellow flowers I do not know the name of, perhaps coltsfoot that Albert also saw.
Then, as I came to the chalk path of the South Downs Way, I saw his windmill on the brow of a far off hill. With the beech trees and the violets behind and no planes in the sky, I felt I was experiencing life in that moment just as Albert would have. I sensed his presence, pointing a way. A way that sits outside of time, intangible but close at hand.
March 22 1942
This will be another short letter I am afraid, as the weather today is really too cold and miserable for me to venture out. There is quite a strong and unpleasantly cold east wind, and the top of the hills are over-hung with cold mist, and even in the hut there is a definite wind blowing across the back of my neck. So I am stopping in the camp for the whole of today, writing and reading and generally messing about.
Yesterday was very nice until the evening, when it became cloudy. I cycled to Calne early in the evening and did a little shopping. Then I took a look around the town which I had not previously seen in daylight. It is about the size of Botley but rather better, and with some good old stone houses. I took a little road which led me westwards out of the town, and soon became a footpath, which led to an old mill. From there I turned back along the riverside to Calne again. The walk was no distance but the birds were singing rather nicely & it was very quiet and peaceful looking across the river meadows in the twilight. Coming back in the dark I noticed that there was a new moon, which should be quite bright by next week, if I have to travel in the dark.
I had some supper last night in a W.V.S. canteen in Calne, as a very clean place. For sweet that had some sort of pudding with homemade plum jam on top, it was really lovely. I have put the bicycle in between the huts, and this afternoon I shall try to find some old sacks or blankets which would keep off some rain (which we shall get before long no doubt).
I have also bought some Vaseline which I can smear over the handlebars and 3 speed wire. I had better move the machine round to the east wall whilst the wind remains in this quarter, though I suppose this wind will not bring so much rain as the south.
I shall probably eat the egg today, for supper probably, not for a meal somewhere away towards Aldbourne as I had hoped. It seems almost a waste to eat it in camp, but will be doubtless very nice. The eggshell got rather cracked, but I think that was due to the spanner and things, which also broke up some of the biscuits. The chocolate biscuits were very nice, so is the cake which I have not yet finished. I really cannot think of anything further to say, so goodbye & love from Albert.
P.S. I have put on my pullover, after leaving it off for over a week.
Tuesday March 24
Dear All, I have just sent off a parcel, containing a jam jar, a pullover and some handkerchiefs. As parcels posted on Thursday do not seem to arrive until Monday, I must take to posting them off on Tuesdays.
Today has been really lovely, just the sort of day I would like for a Sunday. Had it not been the Music Circle today, I should have gone for a ride in the twilight. Tomorrow we are working all day as the sports afternoon is (as once a month) on Saturday, which will be very annoying in view of last week’s unkind weather. Another source of annoyance is that for this week we are having our tea later at 6 to 6.30 instead of 5.30 to 6. However, unless the weather is bad I shall go to Marlborough to find out where I can park my bicycle over the weekends, and also how long it takes me to get there.
I have got your letter written Sunday night, and am glad to see that we reached our War Weapons total; it really is a lot of money, I think that Portsmouth’s objective is only £2,250,000. I’m glad that the school did so well. [I transcribed the amount just as Albert wrote it. However that seems an extraordinary amount; was it perhaps £22,500?].
I suppose that Peter will be home when I go to the Island this weekend. I hope though that he will be alright when I see him on Saturday. I don’t know when I shall be home, by 9pm I trust. I don’t think there is time (it is 10.30pm) or necessity to say anymore except goodnight for a very little while from Albert.
“I have got my bicycle, and turned what would have been an unsatisfactory evening into a very good one.“
It can be hard to find a suitable photograph to start these posts; I have inherited many more letters from Albert than I have photographs and I spend ages searching for an image which is attractive and relevant . I was struggling particulary to find something appealing to head up this post, when it occurred to me that it would be nice to show a photograph of the recipients of all those letters, namely my Grandparents. So I looked through the photograph albums and found this happy scene, and so apt for letters full of bicycle news. I don’t know when it was taken, but most likely before Albert (who was of course behind the camera) started his RAF service.
So here are two rather short letters, full of details of everyday life on an RAF camp, but avoiding any mention of the actual training that Albert undertook, because that would fall foul of the Censor’s Office. I imagine my grandparents were delighted to read every word, knowing that he was safe and enjoying his expeditions near and far.
Dear All , Tuesday March 17 1942
Your welcome letter came today and as I have been told that the post office is open for a short time on Wednesday, I am going to try to get the parcel posted tomorrow. I am sorry now that I did not skip off home last weekend, as I found that there is quite a good bus service between Marlboro’ & Sarum. As a matter of fact I had some idea of getting off this weekend, but of course that will be no use as you will be away. The train service from Chippenham seems to be quite hopeless; I could not reach Salisbury before 9.30, & returning on the Sunday would be worse if anything. As it is, I understand that our weekend is to be pushed forward to the week before Easter (or 5th) to avoid travelling at that time, so I shall leave coming home until then. After sending off my last letter I realised that if I was going to the Island [The Isle of Wight] I should require a bicycle, and it might have been better to have waited until the long weekend, though then it would have been none too easy as I am not likely to travel by train. I shall be able to use one of the others though. By the way, I think I have found an ideal place for keeping the bike. The huts etc are arranged like this (this is not quite accurate).
You see that in between the huts & washhouses etc, there are little patches of grass, not used by ordinary traffic, & in one of those I could keep a bicycle; leant against a lee wall it should be kept pretty dry.
Thank you for getting a fountain pen for me, Oroto is a very good make according to the place where I bought Peter’s, though it is a pity you could not get such a good quality one as the one I lost. I shall look forward to using it in the near future.
I have answered your queries about war savings, and birthday presents etc. Thanks for the cards, I quite agree that Peter’s is a good one, and the others will do, I rather like Jean’s. I have been trying to get some chocolate to send Auntie Bertha, but there is none in at the moment. It is a very poorly supplied NAAFI, I have only just succeeded in obtaining some soap (Palmolive) after having waited since Saturday. I must try to get some Pears in Calne if I can get down there before the shops close.
When I was out on Saturday I saw some of that yellow jasmine in flower, there were also wild arums coming up. The snowdrops grow much wilder here than at home; I saw a lot on the outside bank of a cottage garden and a host more in the backyard of one of the lodges at Savernake.
I have just been to the music circle meeting, I hear that the Griller string quarter (very famous) is coming Saturday, so I must make strenuous efforts to get there. I do not think I can say much else, so goodbye & love from Albert…..
Weds: I have just been out for a walk to Yatesbury village whilst everyone else is cross-country running. It rained some of the time so it was not too enjoyable, but the walk was better than the run. I went into Yatesbury church which is quite interesting – Norman and early English. There were snowdrops growing in the church yard and looking very nice.
We were today told “definitely” that our weekend is the one commencing March 28. I will warn Grandma in my birthday letter, but if you are writing sooner you had better mentioned.
Friday March 20
Dear All, I have got my bicycle, and turned what would have been an unsatisfactory evening into a very good one. I went to the music circle meeting to hear Tchaikowsky’s 5th symphony, but on arriving found that the radiogram was not working, though several ‘experts’ were having a go at it. Then the electricity failed , as it did this morning, and any future attempts at repair would have been useless. We were also told that “due to transport difficulties”, the Griller string quartet would not be able to visit us tomorrow, a great pity.
This dinner time the Yale lock and chain arrived, and the afternoon post brought the parcel of food and letters etc. Receiving the second letter first, I was not sure when you were sending it – but I finally saw what you meant.
So at about 7.30 I went to Calne, leaving the camp without lights in the growing darkness. I just missed a bus but got a lift down in an RAF truck, and arrived about 8. I went up to the station and got the bicycle, in good order, without any difficulty. I rode a little way out of Calne on the Chippenham road, & then back again & to the W.V.S. canteen to have a meat pie. Then back to camp to write this letter, which I suppose you will receive on Monday morning. I shall hope to go for a ride on Sunday, of which more later.
“When the evenings are longer, I shall often go up there after tea, perhaps taking a book to read, though I think I should be content merely to enjoy the scenery“
It was lovely to read about these pretty flowers, and the wild violets, and then to see both of them on my run today, thinking how Albert experienced the same pleasure and optimism in seeing these early spring flowers proliferate across the land.
These two letters continue Albert’s themes of exploration of his surroundings and observation of the natural world, which he clearly cherishes. Sadly, were I able to follow in his footsteps this March, (which I cannot do as we are still in a national lockdown) I fear I would not hear so many songbirds in the skies, nor see so many beautiful beech trees. However one day I would like to do that, take the same walk or the same cycle ride. It would I think be quite easy to do, for he gives us detailed directions.
Oh, and we learn that the motorcycle belongs to Bob.
Wednesday March 11 1942
Another wet Wednesday, once more we stopped inside cleaning up and doing other odd jobs of work – I was afraid this would happen when the wind changed. Let’s hope that the weekend will be finer.
You will have seen that I got to Chippenham alright from my last letter’s postmark. As I believe I mentioned before, it was a lovely day, warm compared to my last motor cycle trip and I enjoyed it no end. The country to the West (off the hills) is more like it is at home, with hazel copses – I saw some catkins – winding rivers, and hedge-enclosed fields. We saw a lot of trees being felled too, beeches I believe they were.
Chippenham is not a very large town, about as large as Havant, but more of a marketing town. It has one main street, with a square at one end, and, near the other, a bridge across the Avon. Further on is the station, which is the junction of three G.W. lines. There is a market, where there is also a NAAFI canteen, where we had tea. There are some fine old shops in the town, but there are no really interesting ones, such as at Winchester, or even Marlborough. The main business of the place seems to be concerned with the Nestles milk & Westinghouse electric factories which are there, & they are probably responsible for the council housing estate on the Bath side of the town. That part of Chippenham is quite uninteresting.
I saw some snowdrops and crocus in bloom in the school garden at Chippenham, I expect the Branstone snowdrops are well out now. Up here the spring will be later than at home but if I look around now I expect I shall see some Lesser Celandine out (I first saw it about March 3rd last year) and soon there should be wild violets & primroses, at home if not here. There is not quite the right sort of place here for large numbers of primroses or bluebells.
I was pleased to receive your letter yesterday, I hope this one is not so late in arriving as my last parcel. I have written to Jean, it was really past time I wrote to her. I think it is quite a good idea to get her a silver chain for her cross, but I think I could afford 5/3d on my own, & Peter could get her a little something else. If you can get me a pen, she can have my old one too. And you must find out what Peter would like – if he knows himself that is. For Auntie Bertha I shall get some chocolate if there is any available.
I do not yet know when our long weekend is. It should fall on Easter Weekend, but since there are travelling restrictions it may be altered to a week before or after. When I next go to Marlborough or Devizes I shall try to get hold of the times of buses to Salisbury.
I do not know what I shall do on Sunday. If this wet weather continues it will be rather damp and sticky for walking, so I may try to hire a bicycle. As I sit here & write this letter, the prospect of cycling seems very attractive, & if I get a bike on Sunday & all is well, I may yet ask you to send mine – there are a number of places in the camp where they can be stored away – Bob kept his motor cycle here quite successfully.
Thanks for the parcel by the way. I have eaten the cake (v. nice) but some of the jam still remains. We have been having a little jam most tea times, so I generally take mine at breakfast time. I think that will do for tonight, so goodbye and love from Albert.
One detail that caught my eye in Albert’s next letter was his reference to ‘the now black white horse.’ I suppose that during wartime having a huge chalk horse near an RAF camp was a bit of liability, seeing as it would have been highly visible from the air, even in low light. So it was given a make over to suit the times. I remember as a child looking out for this horse as we drove along the A4, perhaps on a visit to relatives in Bristol. Wikipedia tells us that, “The figure at Cherhill was first cut in 1780 by a Dr Christopher Alsop, of Calne, and was created by stripping away the turf to expose the chalk hillside beneath. Its original size was 165 feet (50 m) by 220 feet (67 m). Dr Alsop, who was Guild Steward of the Borough of Calne, has been called “the mad doctor”, and is reported to have directed the making of the horse from a distance, shouting through a megaphone from below Labour-in-Vain Hill. His design may have been influenced by the work of his artist friend George Stubbs, notable for his paintings of horses.”
Sunday March 15
Dear All, many thanks for the parcel, which was very welcome, though most of the stuff I have eaten already. The cheese paste is very nice and I can always do with some of that, though at the moment there is some left.
As regards Peter’s present, if you cannot find out what he would like, you will have to give him money – about 5/- will do. If he wants books or something that costs more than 5/- it will be quite alright to order them. I suppose the warship week will be soon, when it comes off get me some savings certificates to leave about £2 in the box – I think that should be sufficient.
Yesterday evening I walked to Calne, up the hill to Oldbury camp and across some fields to Blackland, from which I followed the lane to the main road, which led me into Calne, where I had some supper and caught the bus back to camp.
It was growing dusk by the time I had climbed the hill, and after a sunny afternoon, ragged grey rain clouds had filled the sky. However, the wind was still Southerly & warm, and it was very, very pleasant on the top. The Wiltshire chalk does not seem prone to forming well-defined ridges of any length, but like the hills just here, like those which are the northern boundary of the Vale of Pewsey, do rise sharply from the general shapelessness of the Downs. On the North side of the hill is as steep as any chalk hill I know of, almost a precipice, and as it falls away sheer from the 800ft height, one has a fine view of the village of Cherhill and the road, dotted with tiny people & cars beneath. The camp is mercifully hidden by the curve of the hill (on which is the now black white horse) and the treed landscape, with the long fields, the cottages and church, & on the other side, the rolling downs stretching far away to the south, the crest of each hill capped by its little beech clump, is very enjoyable, one of the finest views I have come across in Wiltshire. When the evenings are longer, I shall often go up there after tea, perhaps taking a book to read, though I think I should be content merely to enjoy the scenery.
I walked on, passing a small, geometrically-planted square of beeches and descended to the fields, across which I walked towards the Blackland Road. In one of the fields I picked up the head of the first wild flower I have seen this year, possibly pecked off by a bird, as there were none other of its kind near. It was a smallish brilliantly yellow thing, after the style of a dandelion but not much larger than a daisy – you probably know what I mean. [‘Coltsfoot’ is wriiten in the margin, in my Grandfather’s hand]. There were many birds singing, mainly blackbirds I think, but also chaffinches, robins, larks and some others, and the air seemed filled with song. It was getting dark after I had descended the hill, & by the time I reached the Calne road it was quite dark. In Calne I had some sandwiches & meat roll in the W.V.S. canteen there – a very good place too, I think they must get a lot of stuff from Harris’s.
Today I have been out cycling. I queued up for one of the camp bicycles, for which I paid 1/8d and by about 10 was out of the camp, going down the road towards Calne. It was a very unpromising morning for a cycle ride; true the wind was South but the hill was hidden from time to time in mist, and after I had gone a little way it began to rain. I continued in spite of it, and turning to the left, again through Blackland, got on the Devizes road. After a while the rain ceased, and at the top of a hill, I took off my gas mask and tied it to the back stays of the bike. My road crossed the Beckhampton – Devizes road and led me on through Bishop Cannings, which as the photograph suggest, is a pleasant little village. I followed that road over the canal and through Allington, Alton Barnes and Alton Priors to Wilcot. I stopped where the road goes nearest to Rybury camp and climbed the hill, though not going right up to the camp. It rained again whilst I was there, and then there was a fleeting patch of sunshine which crossed the Downs from south to north. In Wilcot I took a wrong turning (I’m not sure how) and instead of coming out in Pewsey I arrived on the main road a couple of miles on the Salisbury side. Again it rained and I sought shelter in an inn near North Newton (on the crossroads between 2 rivers [Avon]).
I ate my dinner, which consisted of all the biscuits which remained, spread with cheese paste. By the time I left (1.30) it had stopped raining, and once more the sun was shining, as it continued to do for quite a while. I turned back towards Pewsey, which I reached quite quickly with a following wind and from there I took the road to Savernake. Pewsey is quite a pleasant little town about the size of Bishop’s Waltham. I crossed the A346 and the railways at Savernake station and went on the road through Savernake estate. To my disappointment the WD [War Department?] have Savernake forest, and the Grand Avenue (photograph in ‘English Downland’) which I intended to take to the A4, is closed. I had to carry straight on, and struck the London road a mile or so further east, and along it rode to Marlborough. I had some tea in Marlborough & looked at the bus timetable – there is an hourly service to and from Salisbury – and went to one of the churches. Then I returned to camp along the main road, in sunshine & after a very enjoyable day, though due to the smallness of the bicycle, my legs felt a bit cramped.
So enjoyable was it that I should like to have my bicycle here, so that I can enjoy the full pleasure of cycling. Rather a change of opinion you may think, but it will be so nice to be independent of other means of transport, especially as one has to queue up for hired bikes, for buses, and hitchhiking! So perhaps you could send mine to Calne station, “to be called for” – by passenger train I suppose. But first buy a lock and chain (not Woolworth’s – everyone has keys for them) and remove the saddle bag. Perhaps you had better send some tools, the puncture outfit, my adjustable spanner, tied underneath the saddle (so that the railway people don’t sneak them). I leave it to you whether you send the pump. I think that is all so goodbye now & love from Albert.
P.S. There was a red sky tonight and I saw some smoke going straight up. I saw lots of snowdrops – almost wild, & heard lots of larks.
Today is my Uncle Peter’s birthday. I spoke to him earlier on the phone, as we cannot see each other under the current restrictions. He reminded me that Albert would have been 100 this year, being 5 years older than Peter. My uncle was kind enough to tell me that he enjoys reading these letters and remembering those times, which is a great incentive to keep on with my posts. Happy Birthday again Uncle Peter, I hope we can see each other again soon xx.
Such was my first thought, when reading Albert’s letter on 3rd March 1942, for he writes of arriving at camp and of his journey on ‘the bike’. Well, where had he been? And when did he obtain a bicycle? I thought that I had mislaid the letter that answered these questions until, as I read beyond the first paragraph, I realised that he must have left camp on Saturday evening and travelled back to Southampton to spend Sunday with his parents. Lucky Albert, how fortunate for him to be based 53 miles from home; a long journey in 1942 but not too long. But on a bicycle, surely not? I know my predecessors were hardy folk, but not that sturdy! Oh no, it was a motorbike of course, that became over clear when I read over the page. Whose motorbike was it? That I do not know, for Albert does not relate this information, nor the name of its driver.
I am writing this letter tonight so that I can get it and some clothes etc posted tomorrow. First of all we arrived here alright at about ¼ to 10 or 11. We went through Salisbury at 20 to 10 and to the straight road through Shrewton (by Druid’s Lodge) Tilshead, W. Lavington, Potterne & Devizes. It was beautifully bright though rather cold, and the bike was going fine. We stopped to warm up at the cross roads before Shrewton. The road up to then is very bleak and lonely. The villages look very nice places; Potterne has some half timber houses, and I may visit it one Sunday – it is not far from Devizes. The bike started missing after Devizes & stopped just after Beckhampton. At first we thought it was the petrol but it turned out that another plug was required. When this was put in it went again and we covered the last mile at a rousing pace, going in by the main gate without any trouble.
Now for one or two things I want sent up to me – with the next washing parcel will do:
1. My filters in the black box and the homemade filter holder which they fit. I don’t know where they are but I should suggest looking on the medicine cupboard, in our homework cupboard in the dining room (I know the Actina filters are there, but I don’t want them), in my photographic cupboard, in the Sanderson case. They should be in one of those places.
2. A front stud. The one I was using has broken, and a substitute I have is not much good.
3. Look in the ‘Radio Times’ and see what Louis Kenter played in the 2.30pm concert on Sunday. It was something by Chopin, Scherzo in A flat I think, but I’m not sure. Having found it perhaps you could tick it off in the H.M.V. catalogue, or else send it up to me. I have few records of piano music and would like to get that one (or two). Any time you can get the set repaired I would be willing to pay for it & you must admit, it does want doing.
I am pleased to have the biscuits and cake to eat in our break times, they are very nice. I have not yet opened the jam as we had some yesterday (raspberry I think) and today I wanted to get away quickly to have a bath, I expect I shall have some tomorrow.
Today the weather has been very mild after quite a white frost. The morning was quite sunny but with the afternoon the clouds came and we have since dark had a little rain. I hope it is fine Wednesday afternoon for our ‘sports’, as I intend taking another walk.
I hear that there are some bicycles in the camp which may be hired, so if they do not look too decrepit I may try one. I was talking to a fellow who had been to Devizes, & he says that it is a pleasant town, & in his opinion better than Malborough.
I fear that I can’t find much else to say, as I told you most of the news on Sunday. They don’t seem to have any chocolate here yet. I got a soap coupon this week. I don’t know how often they are given out, but if it is once a week I shall be able to supply you with some soap. Our laundry came back today & seems quite satisfactory.
Weds: It has been raining hard since morning (or night) so we can’t go out this afternoon.
Goodbye then and love to from Albert.
P.S. a 4th thing you could perhaps send some Parke Davis shaving cream (no hurry). There seems to be an epidemic of mumps here.
I confess that I inferred from Albert’s postscript, that the shaving cream was a 1940s home remedy for mumps! But not so, dear reader. As far as I know Albert did not succumb to the epidemic.
In Albert’s next letter he gives his considered opinion on my Grandmother’s vegetable pasties and expresses frustration at the weather’s thwarting of a photography expedition. So Albert has his camera with him, which he must have been very pleased about. And he’s about to go motorbiking again, with his mystery companion. Don’t you feel like he’s having the time of his life?
Sunday March 8th
I hope you were not too worried at the non-appearance of my parcel on Thursday. I had it all done up on Tuesday night, but too late I discovered that the post office closes early on Wednesdays, so I was not able to get it posted until Thursday midday. You will have seen that I arrived in camp safely and without trouble.
Your parcel arrived safely and proved very welcome. I have eaten the veg. pasties but am leaving the cake until tonight. The pasties are quite nice though not so good as meat ones, I think that vegs. do not possess the right sort of flavour, or not enough of it, to go in pastry. I have been eating the jam too – I had some for breakfast this morning & I was also able to snoop some from the cookhouse, and put it in the powdered milk tin in which you put the cake. The cakes and nearly all the biscuits have gone, though I have two or three of the cheeses left.
I don’t know what you think of the week’s weather. Wednesday (“sports afternoon”) when I had promised myself a walk to Avebury, & possibly some photographs too, it rained hard so there were no sports, let alone walks. Then the wind went back and it became bitterly cold again, with snow on Thursday, some of which still hangs about. Saturday evening saw an improvement, and today I am pleased to say that the weather is fine and sunny with quite a soft wind (S). The snow is being melted rapidly, but early, when the sun was still low, it looked very lovely across the white hills and downland. Of course, the church parade prevented me from going out photgraphing.
This afternoon, at about 2 (it is now 1.30) I am going by motor bike to Chippenham. We intended going as far as Bath, but the petrol situation forbids that. I believe that Chippenham is quite a nice market town though & the weather is really quite nice for motorcycling. I will keep the leggings here for a little while just in case I need them, they will be quite safe in my locker & I don’t suppose you would use them (& the gloves too).
Whilst at Chippenham I must look at the railway times to see what chance there is of getting trains to Salisbury, they may run earlier & later than the buses.
I suppose Jean is home this week end having come by the Royal Blue. I trust that coach travel came up to her expectations. When Peter and I saw her off from the Central the last thing I told her was not to fall out of the window – as she waved to us while the train rounded the bend she leaned so farout that she must have had to catch hold with her toes. Tell her not to do that the next time. Probably she will say she did not lean out very far at all, but it looked a lot; Peter and I looked down the line after the train to make sure that she was still on the way. This weather is the right sort for learning to ride a bicycle too. By the way, I believe that Bournemouth music festival was last week – I had wanted to get there on the Sunday, but it was impossible today of course. But I believe that they have some Sunday concerts at Bristol, which is not so far away, and on the main road (which at home we are not) so I may go there one Sunday if I can find what the programmes are; perhaps there will be something of that sort in Chippenham.
As I will perhaps have little time this evening I think I will close now & write about the afternoon’s journey in the middle of the week, so goodbye now & love from Albert.
Albert tells us that he is settling in to life on the RAF camp, happy to meet up with some familiar faces from Blackpool, and his former work colleague from Hamble (it’s a shame we do not get to know his name).
His training in Morse continues, along with learning about radio operations, which he finds quite easy. RAF Yatesbury apparently had a secret radar training section from 1942 onwards; of course Albert would not have been able to disclose any information, were he involved in this. What Albert does divulge about camp life is, in some respects, rather too much information in my opinion. I don’t mind reading about the cinema and his Saturday dinner out, but I did not enjoy reading about his ‘interesting’ trip to the dentist and his soap-saving endeavours!
Wednesday February 25
Dear All, many thanks for your letter which I think I received yesterday, but there is little to mark the passage of days here, so I am never sure which day is which. I am glad that you went to the pictures with Jean and enjoyed yourselves there, I expect Jean will manage to pay for her ticket out of her pocket money. The letter which came from Dickson Road was one which I had received long ago, but they found it behind the dressing table and sent it on in case it was one which I wished to keep. I must thank them for sending it on.
I have been getting on fairly well, & settling down in this past week. The work is almost entirely in classrooms with only a very little P.T. We mostly learn Morse and the way messages are sent out, and wireless, which at the moment is elementary magnetism and electricity and accumulators. I have thus done much of it before, much more thoroughly than they do it here, so that part of it comes very easily to me. The other is not very hard but the course is much more interesting than the plain Morse and drill which we did at Blackpool. We do not do any flying here.
One of the first things I did here was to break the little comb you gave me. It could not have been very strong as I just brushed my hair when it was wet, & the comb broke in two! I still have the mirror which is most necessary, as there is none in the hut or workhouse. I have the other (green) comb of course.
On last Friday I went to the cinema, & saw some old films, including a Mickey Mouse, and a “March of Time” issued whilst America was still out of the war. It was only 6d & quite good considering, though like everything else here, the cinema is inadequately heated & too adequately ventilated! Tomorrow I may go again to see a Deanna Durbin film – “Spring Parade”.
On Saturday evening I went with my Hamble friend and two other fellows to Calne, where we had dinner in the hotel there. A very good dinner too, of soup, chicken, potatoes and sprouts, chocolate pudding and coffee. It was a very pleasant evening, and a good change from camp life, in which meals are much more roughly served than in an hotel! I must go there again one Saturday.
I have also met two of the fellows who were billeted with me at Dickson Road, and they say that they have seen three of the others up here. I have seen several people whom I met at various times at Blackpool, so this is by no means a strange place to me. Strangest of all, I met last night a chap who for two years was in the same form as me at Taunton’s [Richard Taunton Grammar School]; a very pleasant coincidence. He too is on an Observer’s course, though about a month ahead of me, so we stand a chance of going to the same place together after this.
Monday and Tuesday evenings I spent writing letters and reading books. I have already got some way with my W.H. Hudson book. As the hut is so draughty & the NAAFI reading room shuts at 9.30, I usually go to bed at about 10.00 and until lights out (10.45) read in bed. Tonight I am up later writing this letter. Tuesday I sent a towel, shirt and collar to the laundry. I don’t know what the result will be but I have taken the risk until I have a definite reason for not doing so. Whilst on the sunject of clothing, perhaps you could send up my pullover next week. I do not remember if there is a sleeveless one still about, but if there is, perhaps you could send that one. If not the other will do.
Later in the day I had my teeth scraped, or sealed, as the dental term is. It consists of removing the tartar, or lime or whatever collects of them with a miniature scapel: quite an interesting process, and my teeth feel much cleaner as a result of it. In the evening I had a bath – a good hot one too, and that reminds me that I could not find my flannel. If it is at home perhaps you would send it up with the pullover. By collecting bits which other people have left, I have not used my soap yet. The water is extremely hard here and soap doesn’t lather at all easily. As that completes the page, & I have little else to relate, I will close now with love from Albert.
After his week of leave, Albert settles into the RAF camp that will be his home for the next twelve weeks. Albert travels by train from Southampton to Calne, then waits for a lorry to take him to camp. Yatesbury could not be more different to Blackpool, it must have felt like a different world to him. Wiltshire is the neighbouring county to Hampshire, and the topography is similar. The hills of Wiltshire roll further and the skies are bigger than those Albert knew as a boy, but there was a familiarity that I’m sure he found comforting. Albert sounds more ‘at home’ in this landscape, writing beautifully about his view from Oldbury Castle (which he incorrectly names as Ogbury Camp… that caused me some confusion!)
Thursday February 19, 7.10pm
Dear All, first of all you will note that I have an address. We are told that it will not change for the 12 weeks we are to be here, so it should be quite safe for you to write. I arrived safely after quite a good journey. The carriage was a very cold and draughty one, but I was able to secure a corner seat and after Salisbury I was able to put my feet up on the opposite seat, so I did not get quite frozen. I had to wait only 20 minutes for the connection at Trowbridge, and caught the early train at Calne without delay at Chippenham. We were transported by lorry to camp, which is situate right along A4. I ate my sandwiches whilst waiting for the lorry, and the mince pie on arrival. We got here after 2pm. We were then allotted with huts, sheets etc, and given tea at about 5. The food seems quite good, and, as far as I am concerned, sufficient in quantity (so far).
The camp is much the same as other camps, with the usual wooden huts, which are really quite comfortable, but it seems they are also rather cold. The weather came out fine just as we approached Yatesbury, and now there is a clear sky and an approaching frost. The wind is slight but what there is of it is quite bitter.
The hut is rather dark at the moment, as there is only one bulb – all the others mysteriously disappeared whilst it was empty.
The view from the place is not very inspiring. To the North, West & East are just huts, to the South, the main road, and a bank of grass. Just visible from here is also the hill on which is Ogbury Camp, and an obelisk of some description.
I believe it is quite easy to get out of the camp after duty hours, but of course, there is not much time in the evening. We work all Saturday. Wednesday afternoon is “off”, but devoted to compulsory sports. Sunday is off all day, with a church parade every four weeks. After six weeks is a long weekend (Friday evening – Sunday evening)and after 12 weeks, a 7 days leave and another move. I believe short weekends (Saturday evening – Sunday evening) are also obtainable, and day passes too, but I believe that travel facilities are very meagre; however, I must see about that later. I do not think we shall see a lot of that sort of thing yet awhile.
I have already met my Hamble workmate. He seems quite happy here, but is due to go in about a fortnight. There is a cinema here, a Y.M.C.A & canteen, but not much else to do in the evenings, so I am beginning to wonder what I shall find to write about in my twice-weekly letters.
Things are a bit upside down & I have yet to get my stuff out. We have lockers (which need to be kept locked I believe) and unless they are taken from us, they will give plenty of space. Since I have been writing, another bulb has been put in, which should enable me to read in bed. It is so chilly that I shall go to bed fairly early. I expect Jean will be home when you receive this, so love to all 3, from Albert.
P.S. I am frozen!
Albert’s second letter describes his first walk in the area, taking the track up to the Bronze Age hill fort of Oldbury Castle. I am quite certain we visited it when I was a child. I would have raced up and down those same ramparts with my sisters, whilst Mum and Dad strolled on the path below us. And we would have clambered further up the hill to scrutinise the strange monument, puzzling over the motivations of its creator and the purpose of its being.
Sunday Feb 22
I commence my 2nd letter from here in quite a happy frame of mind, as I have just been for a most enjoyable walk, to Marlborough. I got my dinner as soon as possible & by 12.30 I had left the camp.
I went up the little road which climbs up Cherhill Down towards Ogbury camp & soon was on top of the hill, in the labyrinth of ditches & ramparts of which the camp is composed, and I climbed to about the highest of these fortifications and surveyed the wide view which the camp commands.
The day was inclined to haziness, & I could not see clearly into the distance, but I could see, especially to the south, several ranges of the downs, rolling away in troughs and crests, like the sea with a rather heavy swell; not a rough sea, they are too gently undulating for that, just a gentle rise and fall of the green disappearing, or rather fading into the blue distance.
There is an obelisk (Lansdowne column says my map) on the hill, but I did not bother to investigate it this time, I continued along my track until I came to a Roman Road, and turning left followed this on its course to Beckhampton. There I came back to the world again, as there were plenty of RAF on the road, which, however, I cut across, taking the Swindon Road which passes through my next objective, Avebury. At Beckhampton it was about 1.20. At Avebury I stopped a while and looked at the megalithic temple, the centre part of which is conveniently & pleasantly situated on a sort of village green. It is just at that point that the earthworks are most imposing, and they and the massive sarsen stones make quite a grand spectacle. The circle is by….
Oh no! Sadly the second page of this letter has been lost, so we shall never know what further thoughts Albert had of Avebury, just as we shall never know for certain why people chose to erect a great stone circle thousands of years ago. One thing I do know, is that the stones stand now much as they did in 1942, and doubtless they shall stand, dear reader, long after you and I are gone.
This letter was written on 6th February 1942, as Albert prepares to go on leave, and he will not return to ‘horrid’ Blackpool. His happiness fairly leaps off the page; imagine how delighted all the Mabey family were to receive such news.
This letter is a supplement to the telegram which I sent off this dinner time. We had received the glad tidings this morning, though rumours to that effect had been floating around for some days. I leave here on Thursday probably by the 2.30 train, but my London friend, or rather her mother, has kindly offered to put me up for the night. (Joyce Herman, the one who used to work at Hamble – you remember I went to Bournemouth with her). As the train will not arrive in London before 8 or 9, I shall do this and take a midday train from Waterloo. I am not quite sure of the trains to Southampton so I cannot say which one I shall catch. I want to buy some records in London – hence the request for money – and I don’t want to do too much dashing in the dark with them. Of course I could not get them in the evening and they probably will not be stocked at home.
Well I feel ever so happy about this, I expect you do too. I want to see Peter and Jean if that is possible. I am afraid that I shall not be able to get over to the Island though. I should like my bicycle to be taken down and the tyres blown up. I think the 3 speed is still wonky so if there is time I should like them to be done by Alec Bennett’s.
We shifted billets again this afternoon. I am writing this during Morse instruction and have not yet had a meal there, but though there are plenty of rules and regulations, it is a clean, well furnished house, with a pleasant looking dining room (with tablecloths) and we do not feel so much in the nature of outcasts. Of course, I am still keeping 39 as my postal address.
I shall send home all of my personal gear and some RAF things, so as to lighten my burden as far as possible. I have sent off some socks and hankies today and when I get my laundry tomorrow, I shall send the stuff I am using now.
I do not know what has happened to my clothes but I shall change into them as soon as I arrive home. Actually the pass includes permission to wear civilian clothes.
The only snag is that after a week I shall have to go back, but to Yatesbury, Wiltshire which is better than Blackpool. My Hamble workmate should still be there, and of course most of the fellows I have met here. I shall leave for Yatesbury on Thursday morning, Feb 19, to be there by 3p.m. Now here is my diary, which doesn’t include much else.
On Wednesday I went to the music class and, incidentally, heard a “Messiah” record that I should very much like – must see about that. I shall go as usual, but for the last time, next Monday. I shall miss the Halle concert too. Yesterday evening I went round to 39 for the first time this week. I hear that there is a Church Parade on Sunday, so unless I can get out of it, I shall not be able to see Mr Gibson before I leave. If I am unable to get there, I must write him a note saying I have gone. I shall also have to write to the Island to let them know. That, I think, is about all. I have not received your midday letter, so cannot reply to it. Love to all – Albert
P.S. I sent a Greetings Telegram because (a) I didn’t want to worry you by sending the other (bad news) sort. (b) It is quite an occasion for Greetings anyway.
My Grandmother would have received this telegram at lunchtime on 6th February 1942. Imagine her delight at opening the golden envelope. Her son is coming home on leave.
Albert wrote a letter immediately after he despatched this glad news and I’ll share it soon. But this evening I wanted to mark this happy anniversary with you. Albert’s going to be opening the ‘warning gate’ soon, to walk through his own front door and into the arms of his Mum.
These three subjects of the letter dated 4th February 1942, are familiar to us still in 2021 and just as comforting; topics of family conversations that form the fabric of daily life. In my mind’s eye, as I read, I could see my grandparents poring over the RHS catalogue and making their choices for the growing season ahead. The years may have changed the world very much since Albert wrote but the flowers and their beauty are essentially unaltered. I have penstemons in my garden and I think Albert would like them.
Albert also updates us on his feelings about his billet, adopting a more sanguine attitude than previously. He knows it is only temporary; after over three months in Blackpool he will be moving on soon.
The bounty of his food provisions is a source of pleasure (did he store everything under his bed I wonder?) and, thank goodness, he keeps us all updated about his socks.
Just for a change I will start by discussing the weather. From your description of it, written on Sunday, your weather seems to have been worse than ours. We had a good dose of snow on Sunday night, followed by heavy rain and more snow on Monday night. The roads were very slushy on Monday, but the rain soon disposed of it. Today is rather cold & grey, but as yet, nothing worse. We have not yet had any hail or thunderstorms. Fellows who have come up from the South say that there was bad snow there at the weekend.
Thanks for the Wisley list. I see that you are persevering with the heaths and gypsophila. I hope they are more successful than the last attempts. I hope the Geum will be quicker in blooming than our red ones, I hope it will not be the same one. The penstemon I see is still not the old red one, I wish you could get hold of some of them. The other Wisley penstemon has rather small flowers, of a pale mauve if I remember rightly. I think the list looks a good one, if only we can get most of them; I think it best to send it off quickly. The “unknown” plants look a very interesting lot – the spindle tree I should like to see too. Is there a wild potentilla with small yellow flowers?
I have been doing quite well for food of late. I did not go for a walk on Sunday as, the weather was much too bad, but I had bought a meat pie and a “fruit malt” loaf and with the cakes and your potted meat I have been doing extremely well. We have had some more “jam” too! I noticed that the meat contained some tomato and thought you must have opened one of our bottles. The apples are still very nice. I have been having one after dinner, and will eat the last one today. I shall look forward to some apple or apple & blackberry tart when I get home. Also some of those gooseberries, and some vegetable savouries like macaroni cheese and butter beans with cheese sauce. I have not had anything like that since I have been here; of course you can’t expect the landladies to fiddle with such things, especially as many fellows might prefer something more solid. It is a strange thing but since Hull road I have not had any brown bread or wholemeal bread.
This Sunday I think there is a Church Parade for us, but if not I may try to get a lift to Bolton to see Mr Gibson. For the last two weeks I have tried to get a pass but have failed to do so. Now I must try to get out without one, I do not expect I shall be stopped in a private car, it is the trains they watch.
Monday I went as usual to the Music Society concert. Last night I went to the theatre and saw Bernard Shaw’s play “The Doctor’s Dilemma” with Vivien Leigh in the leading part. It was very good with plenty of laughs, mainly at the expense of the medical profession. It was well produced too, on a very lavish scale as regards costumes, props etc. I was also rather fortunate in being able to buy some chocolate there, which I ate in the interval. Tonight there is another Music Society meeting. If I am here on Feb 14 I shall go to the Halle concert on that date.
I have sent a birthday cards to Uncle Dick and Mrs Franklin, and written a letter to Joyce. I sent her Phil’s airgraph. The letter which he promised has not yet arrived. I am enclosing a piece from the “Listener”, I hope that it is not the trouble with our plum tree.
We have heard no more about changing billets, though of course we still live in hopes. I am afraid there is nothing to be gained by complaining. The food is wholesome and good enough, the beds are satisfactory now that we have sheets, and there is a fire of some sort in the evenings, though it is generally well damped down with what appears to be earth. The general comfort or lack of it doesn’t count, so we have no grounds for complaint.
Evening: this afternoon I volunteered for a job in the office, & I spent the time making forms for leaving billets. I think that it is pretty definite that I shall be leaving this place and moving back to the old area. It is unlikely that I shall get back to 39, but at least it will be nearer there. At the moment I am a half or three quarters of a mile distant.
I shall not send any laundry until the weekend, as then I shall have another pair of socks. My feet don’t sweat much in this weather! That seems to be all my news and comments so goodbye and love to all, from Albert.
How lucky Albert was to see Vivien Leigh perform on stage. I wonder who accompanied him, perhaps one of the ‘girls’ from 39 Dickson Road. He seemed as pleased with the interval chocolate as he did with the play!
Albert did not manage to get to Bolton to see Mr Gibson ( an ex teacher colleague of my grandfather’s), as you shall read in the next installment…
There is a general feeling, in this country at least, that it’s good riddance to January 2021. Lockdown continues, the death toll is alarming and the weather has been awful. Whether or not Albert experienced a similar dislike of the first month of 1942,I shall let you decide! Here are his two last letters of the month. The first one is undated, but I believe I have placed it correctly. Food, socks, concerts, cold weather and cold water – these are some of the topics covered. They are all familiar subjects but elevated out of the mundane by the glimpses they offer of a long ago England in wartime.
Thanks very much for the parcels. I got the tin of biscuits etc. yesterday, and the parcel of socks came this morning here. I think it best that you should still send mail here, as I have heard a rumour that we are being moved again. The place hasn’t improved much but I come round here quite often so I am getting on pretty well. I bought some “Diploma” cheeses on Monday to have at teatime. I must try for some “Velveeta” another time. I can’t quite remember when I wrote my last letter to you, or what I said in it. Was it the one I wrote at the YMCA canteen.
The weather lately has been very changeable with rain, sun, a cold east wind and some snow all mixed. On Monday I was put On Guard – 7 hours in all and it was rather cold at night but I’ve got over it. The only thing was that the wind caught my hands a bit and made them rough and bleed a little (probably washing in cold water made things worse) but I managed to borrow some sort of cream from one of the girls here, and now they are much better. Coming back in the morning I was able to get quite a lot of chocolate in the canteen. I shall save some of it for Christine’s birthday. Could you tell me when these birthdays are.
I was sorry to hear that you have got the wrong size tyres, though I thought that the wheels were 26 x1 ½ “. My back tyre is a 26 x 1 3/8”, though the fact that it is a “tandem” tyre makes it look much larger. I intended to get a 1 ½ “ tyre but all the shops at which I enquired said that it couldn’t be done. I suppose that it would be liable to come off when not wanted.
I am afraid that this is will be a short letter as nothing much seems to have happened since my last, and there is very little to reply to in your letters. I must put in Raymond’s letter to give you something to read.
I don’t believe I told you about the symphony concert on Sunday. Of course the orchestra was a bit ragged to the Halle etc, and was lacking in some instruments but I enjoyed it very much. Norman Allin of course was very good – do you remember hearing him sing the “Song of the Flea” many years ago at the Police Concert? I enjoyed the “Fingal’s Cave” & the “Emperor” and the symphony No 1 – all pieces I like. I have long wanted to see a performance of the “Emperor Concerto”. That I fear is all I have to say so Goodbye and love to all, from Albert.
Albert’s second letter is dated Saturday 31 January 1942 and continues with his familiar themes; he is very pleased to have some apples from the garden at home! Albert feels fortunate to have the homely atmosphere of ’39’ (his previous billet) to come back to, enjoying a cup of cocoa and homemade jam tarts. And whilst Albert barely touches on the matter, I sense that he knows his life will change imminently, remarking as he does on colleagues who are moving on . Soon it shall be Albert’s turn to pack up his kitbag and leave Blackpool. I think he will be rather glad about that, in spite of any nervousness about what lies ahead.
Dear All, your parcel of handkerchiefs, potted meat and APPLES arrived at 39 today and I collected it with my laundry at dinner time. The apples are lovely. I had one after dinner today, and it was so very nice that I then had another, the little one. Although it is true that they show some signs of shrivelling, they are still beautifully crisp and fresh, a real treat for me. Despite what we and Mrs Avery (as usual) said to the contrary, they have kept very well & nearly as long as in previous years.
I believe I said in a previous letter that I should like mail to be addressed to 39 Dickson, especially now as the people at 53 have an unpleasant habit of sometimes taking our mail into the kitchen and leaving it until we ask for it. Auntie Lizzie sent some Xmas cake and though it came in the afternoon it was not until the following morning that one of the fellows noticed it outside, and I was able to claim it. There were some letters for the others too.
I shall be quite well off for food next week, besides your potted meat, I have some jam tarts for today, a ginger cake for tomorrow (and perhaps Monday) ½ dozen packet cheeses and a jar of Poulton Noel’s meat paste. There is always plenty in the shops if one can afford it.
The weather now is very nice – sunny and not much wind though a trifle “fresh”. I should like to go for a walk tomorrow though these things are not now so easy to arrange, but perhaps I could get a small brown loaf and take it with me. The trouble is that I don’t know what weather to expect. Next week there is a church parade in the morning so I cannot go far then. Did I mention that I went to Evensong last Sunday? The church is blacked out and the service starts at 6.30. After that, with two of us from 39, I went across to a concert run by the church. It was quite entertaining and they handed round tea and biscuits for those who wanted it – all free!
Of the four of us who came from 39 to 53, one has already gone on his leave & another will go this week. There were two others at 39 but they have gone to good billets so we don’t see much of them. They have had no RAF at 39 since we left, so there is a good billet waiting empty. However, it does mean that we don’t overcrowd the place when we go there. They are very nice to us & last night I had my usual cup of cocoa & some very fine jam (strawberry) tarts which they had made. We occasionally get some jam at 53, I think it is intended to be blackcurrants, but that is just what it looks like, the flavour is very faint and not at all like our blackcurrants.
Last night I saw “The Devil & Miss Jones” which was quite good, though not so funny as I had expected. On the other hand there was more of a story than in most comedy films and though it was not particularly original it made the film interesting and more memorable. It was about a rich man (very rich) who, to find out trades unionists in a shop which he owned, took a job in the store, and was won over to their cause against an unfair and tyrannical management. Quite good on the whole. Thursday I saw the International Ballet again & once more enjoyed it. I tried to get a programme to send you but they were all sold when I got there. Next week I am not sure what will be on. There is “Hi Gang” at one cinema, but also a Bernard Shaw play at the theatre, so I may have to miss one – shall see how funds are. The trouble about films based on radio & variety shows is that they generally lack a story and don’t “hang together” – as in the case of Arthur Askey films, & one we saw a long time ago with Clapham & Dwyer and Teddy Brown and some other people in.
On Wednesday I shall probably send some more washing, or perhaps, on second thoughts, next Saturday – I shall see how many hankies I use. If anyone would like to do some knitting, I could do with another pair of gloves – large ones that I can wear over my present pair when on Guard & on other occasions when I am likely to feel the cold very much. I have put cream on my hands every night and now they are alright.
I do not remember whether I thanked you for the biscuits etc which were in the last parcel. I ate the Mars bar the same day as it arrived, & have been eating biscuits after meals. The crisps will be very useful if I go out tomorrow.I must get some birthday cards today for all these people, but as you say will not send presents except to Maggie & Christine who I cannot leave out.
I was interested to read the gardening notes. As you say, I don’t get much of a chance to see the gardens: it is only on the outskirts of the town that there are any worthy of the name, and even there nothing like we get at home in our outer districts such as The Avenue. What a pity that you lost the beans, they would have been some nice and early ones for us. I suppose the Forsythia is showing signs of blossom by now. That is about all so goodbye and love Albert.
P.S. I am writing this from a YMCA canteen. I shall try to remember to send Phil’s cable with the next parcel. I have received another letter from Joyce, after a long silence. When I reply I shall enclose the airgraph, and the cable address. I have not yet received the letter which he promised me.
PPS A couple of soldiers have just arrived at this table & are writing in pencil and making the table wobble. I hope they finish soon as I want to get through a lot of correspondence today: I have not written much this week due to shortage of stamps. The watch goes very well & keeps excellent time. It is necessary now as there is no clock in the room.
I love that Albert mentions that the soldiers are writing in pencil – I can just imagine his dismay: do they not own a pen between them?!